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Trump’s Team Argued Presidents Can Demand Quid Pro Quos to Get Reelected. Even Republicans Won’t Touch This Defense.

“‘I think I’m the greatest president that ever was, and if I’m not elected, the national interest will suffer greatly.’ That cannot be an impeachable offense,” Trump’s defense argued.

Posted on January 29, 2020, at 6:00 p.m. ET

Handout / Senate Television via Getty Imag

Alan Dershowitz, legal counsel for President Donald Trump

WASHINGTON — Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz told senators that presidents cannot be impeached for using their powers of office to boost their own political fortunes, as long as they believe their reelection is best for the country. Even Republicans aren’t following him down that trail.

While responding to questions from senators Wednesday, Dershowitz argued that presidents cannot be impeached for demanding a quid pro quo to help get themselves reelected.

“Every public official I know believes that his election is in the public interest. And mostly you’re right,” he said. “Your election is in the public interest. And if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”

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Dershowitz laid out three types of presidential motivations: public interest, political interest, and private financial interest. Acting for personal financial gain — such as withholding foreign aid unless you receive a million-dollar kickback — is clearly corrupt, argued Dershowitz.

“But a complex middle case is ‘I want to be elected. I think I’m a great president. I think I’m the greatest president that ever was, and if I’m not elected, the national interest will suffer greatly.’ That cannot be an impeachable offense,” he said.

Trump is accused of holding up almost $400 million of military aid from Ukraine unless the country announced an investigation involving former vice president Joe Biden and his family. Democrats have portrayed this as a political quid pro quo to help to damage Trump’s possible presidential contender and boost his reelection chances. Under Dershowitz’s view, this would not be an impeachable action.

Asked if they agreed with this argument, Republican senators distanced themselves from it.

“I wanted to separate myself from that part of the conversation,” said Sen. Tim Scott, adding that he believes the suggestion that Trump acted purely to get himself reelected is flawed.

Scott said that Dershowitz was speaking hypothetically, not about the circumstances of the Trump impeachment. He said that in Trump’s case, there was a legitimate interest in demanding the investigation because of concerns about corruption in Ukraine.

“He said ‘a president,’ not President Trump. I think he was talking about a philosophical perspective,” said Scott.

Sen. Mike Braun agreed. He said Trump had mixed motives — a blend of public and political interests — when he demanded the investigation. That, said Braun, makes the action legitimate.

Asked if he believes in Dershowitz’s legal interpretation, he said, “I don’t think anybody has to grapple with that because that’s not the case here. It was mixed motives.”

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.